Dr. Kai QUEK 郭全鎧
(on leave 1/1 - 30/06/2021)
Associate Professor of Politics: Ph.D., MIT; B.A., Cornell University.
I study strategic interactions in international relations (IR), with a focus on the IR of China and America.
I am especially interested in (1) state-to-state signaling, (2) the dynamics of deescalation, and (3) the cognitive and cultural origins of polar political beliefs (such as nationalism vs. cosmopolitanism, individualism vs. communitarianism).
- HKU Outstanding Young Researcher Award
- MIT Presidential Fellowship
- Cornell Presidential Research Scholarship
- "Four Costly Signaling Mechanisms." American Political Science Review (2021):
Two mechanisms of costly signaling are known in international relations: sinking costs and tying hands. I show that there exist four mechanisms of costly signaling that are equally general. I develop the new mechanisms of installment costs and reducible costs, and contrast them with sunk costs and tied-hands costs. I then conduct experiments to test the four signaling mechanisms. I find that each mechanism can improve credibility when the costs are high, but reducible costs can improve credibility even when the costs are low.
- "Public Attitudes on Foreign and Internal Migration: Evidence from China" (with David Andrew Singer). Public Opinion Quarterly (2021):
We explore attitudes toward internal and foreign migration in China using an original survey experiment. If labor market competition drives attitudes, then residents will be opposed to migrants with comparable skill levels, regardless of migrant origin. If residents fear a dilution of national identity, then they will be more opposed to foreign than internal migration. We conduct a national survey in Mainland China where we randomly assign respondents to answer questions about migrants with different skill levels and from either foreign countries or other provinces in China. We find that attitudes cleave over skill level, but the foreign-internal dimension is, on its own, not a salient cleavage in preferences. However, when considering high-skilled migrants, respondents are more supportive of foreign than internal migration; when considering low-skilled migrants, they are more opposed to foreign than internal migration. The results cast doubt on material explanations for attitudes toward migration and suggest a reevaluation of cultural threat arguments that privilege national borders.
- "Guns and Butter in China: How Chinese Citizens Respond to Military Spending" (with Xiao Han and Michael Sadler). China Quarterly (2020):
— Featured in The Washington Post
Militaries are sustained by public money that is diverted away from other domestic ends. How the public react to the “guns-versus-butter” trade-off is thus an important question in understanding the microfoundations of Chinese military power. However, there are few studies on public attitudes towards military spending in China, whose rising power has been a grave concern to many policymakers around the world. We fielded a national online survey to investigate the nature of public support for military spending in China. We find that Chinese citizens support military spending in the abstract, but their support diminishes when considered alongside other domestic spending priorities. We also find that public support for military spending coexists surprisingly with anti-war sentiments and a significant strain of isolationism. In addition, while the conventional wisdom suggests that nationalism moves a state towards bellicosity and war, we find that Chinese citizens with a stronger sense of national pride report stronger anti-war sentiments than other citizens.
- "Violence Exposure and Support for State Use of Force in a Non-Democracy" (with Yue Hou). Journal of Experimental Political Science (2019):
— Best JEPS Article Award, American Political Science Association
How do individuals respond to internal security threats in non-democracies? Does violence make individuals more supportive of a strong state? Are the effects of violence on individual attitudes uniform, or are they heterogeneous with respect to the identity of the perpetrators? We field an online survey experiment on a national sample of Chinese citizens, in which respondents were randomly selected to view reports on violent acts in China. We show that exposure to violence makes individuals more supportive of a strong state: respondents randomly exposed to violence are more likely to approve police use of lethal force, and this effect is particularly strong among the less wealthy Han Chinese. We also find suggestive evidence that individuals exhibit intergroup biases in their reaction to violence.
- "Authoritarian Public Opinion and the Democratic Peace" (with Mark Bell). International Organization (2018):
The “democratic peace”—the regularity that democracies rarely (if ever) fight with other democracies but do fight with nondemocracies—is one of the most famous findings in international relations scholarship. There is little agreement, however, about the mechanism that underpins the democratic peace. Recently, scholars have shown that mass publics in liberal democracies are less supportive of using military force against other democracies. This finding has been taken to support the idea that the content of public opinion may provide one mechanism that underpins the democratic peace. Using a large-scale survey experiment, we show that mass publics in an authoritarian regime—China—show the same reluctance to use force against democracies as is found in western democracies. Our findings expand the empirical scope of the claim that mass publics are reluctant to use force against democracies, but force us to rethink how public opinion operates as a causal mechanism underpinning the democratic peace.
- "Can China Back Down? Crisis Deescalation in the Shadow of Popular Opposition" (with Alastair Iain Johnston). International Security (2018):
— Featured in The Economist
— Reprinted in Essential Readings in World Politics (WW Norton, 7th Edition)
Many analysts argue that public opinion creates pressure on Chinese leaders to act coercively in territorial disputes, and that it also limits their options to de-escalate once crises have broken out. Evidence suggests, however, that Chinese leaders may prefer having more flexibility rather than less in a crisis. Using original data generated by a survey experiment conducted in China in 2015, this article examines several strategies that Chinese leaders could use to reduce public pressure so as to make concessions in a crisis easier. These strategies include pledging to use economic sanctions instead of force; invoking China's “peaceful identity”; citing the costs of conflict to China's development; accepting United Nations mediation; and backing down in the face of U.S. military threats. In all cases except one, approval for the leader increases over a baseline level of support for making concessions. The exception is if the leader backs down in the face of U.S. military threats. Here, approval drops below the baseline level of support, especially for nationalists and hawks. The findings suggest that if one assumes that Chinese leaders are constrained by public opinion, a U.S. cost-imposition strategy to compel China to back down in crises may have the opposite effect—tying Chinese leaders' hands even tighter.
- "Type II Audience Costs." The Journal of Politics (2017):
Traditional audience costs are the political losses a leader incurs for backing down after threatening to fight (type I). Type II audience costs are the losses incurred for entering a conflict after promising not to fight. I develop the idea and decompose it experimentally into its constituents: an inconsistency cost plus the loss of a nonbelligerence dividend. Type II audience costs have deep implications, including the reversal of certain microfoundational challenges against type I audience costs in the context of type II audience costs, the credible signaling of a state’s resolve not to fight, and a reassurance mechanism with attractive properties.
- "Are Costly Signals More Credible? Evidence of Sender-Receiver Gaps." The Journal of Politics (2016):
The idea that costly signals are more credible is a long-standing hypothesis in international politics. However, little is known on how costly signaling actually works. Causal evidence is elusive because the effect of a costly signal is almost always confounded with the effects of other previous or simultaneous information. I design three controlled experiments to study how the logic of sinking costs operates. I find that signalers randomly assigned with high resolve are more likely to sink costs, but receivers do not acquiesce in line with signaler expectations, despite the sunk costs suffered. The logic of sunk-cost signaling is strong at the signaler’s end but not at the receiver’s end. There is a sender-receiver gap in how the same deterrence interaction is perceived at the two ends of the signaling mechanism, contrary to what the theory of costly signaling automatically assumes.
- "Nuclear Proliferation and the Use of Nuclear Options: Experimental Tests." Political Research Quarterly (2016):
The causes and prevention of nuclear war are critical to human survival but difficult to study empirically, as observations of nuclear war do not actually exist in the real world. The literature on nuclear war has remained largely theoretical as a consequence. To circumvent the observational constraint, this article investigates the impact of proliferation with laboratory-based nuclear-option games that experimentally manipulate the number of players (N) with a nuclear option. Results show that decisions are mostly peaceful in the dyadic N = 2 condition despite the existence of nuclear options with a relative first-strike advantage. However, a jump beyond N = 2 in the crisis interaction significantly sharpens the propensity to use the nuclear option. The findings highlight an avenue of research that evaluates mechanisms of nuclear war experimentally, moving research beyond the theoretical domain.
- "Rationalist Experiments on War." Political Science Research and Methods (2015):
Private information and the commitment problem are central to the rationalist theory of war, but causal evidence is scarce, as rationalist explanations for war are difficult to test with observational data. I design laboratory experiments to isolate the effects of private information and the commitment problem on the risk of conflict. I find that the commitment problem sharply increases the incidence of conflict, but there is no significant difference in conflict incidence with or without private information in the shadow of shifting power. I also investigate the realism of the positive experimental results with a case study of Japan’s decisionmaking on the eve of the Pacific War. The permutation of formal, experimental and historical methods applies the strength of one method to compensate for the weakness of another. Convergent results from the different methods strengthen the causal inference.
- "Closeness Counts: Increasing Precision and Reducing Errors in Mass Election Predictions" (with Michael Sances). Political Analysis (2015):
— Adopted by the American National Election Study (ANES) 2016
Mass election predictions are increasingly used by election forecasters and public opinion scholars. While they are potentially powerful tools for answering a variety of social science questions, existing measures are limited in that they ask about victors rather than voteshares. We show that asking survey respondents to predict voteshares is a viable and superior alternative to asking them to predict winners. After showing respondents can make sensible quantitative predictions, we demonstrate how traditional qualitative forecasts lead to mistaken inferences. In particular, qualitative predictions vastly overstate the degree of partisan bias in election forecasts, and lead to wrong conclusions regarding how political knowledge exacerbates this bias. We also show how election predictions can aid in the use of elections as natural experiments, using the effect of the 2012 election on partisan economic perceptions as an example. Our results have implications for multiple constituencies, from methodologists and pollsters to political scientists and interdisciplinary scholars of collective intelligence.
- "Discontinuities in Signaling Behavior Upon the Decision for War: An Analysis of China’s Prewar Signaling Behavior." International Relations of the Asia Pacific (2015):
There is always a time gap between the decision for war and its implementation. I exploit this time gap to study how the signaling of resolve changes after the decision for war is made, based on the wars that China fought since 1949. I study the series of signals that China sent after it had made its decisions for war in Korea (1950), India (1962) and Vietnam (1979), and compare them with the signals sent just before the decisions were made. I find patterns in Chinese prewar signaling that reflect how strategic incentives for the signaling of resolve change before and after the decision for war. The study generates theoretical expectations on discontinuities in signaling behavior upon the decision for war – an unexplored research area with direct policy implications.
- "Do States Signal Resolve by Sinking Costs?" (with Dan Altman). Paper for the International Studies Association Annual Conference (2021).
- "Mnemonic Conflict Reconciliation." Paper for the Pacific International Politics Conference (2020).
- "Are Costly Signals Perceived Asymmetrically?" Paper for the Pacific International Politics Conference (2019).
- "The Existence of Four Costly Signaling Mechanisms." Paper for the Pacific International Politics Conference (2018)
- “International Credibility Cost: An Experimental Investigation” (with Xiao Han and Michael Sadler). Paper for the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting (2018).
- "Heterogeneous Chinese Nationalism" (with Erin Baggott and Alastair Iain Johnston). Paper for the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting (2017).
- "Security Dilemma Thinking: Evidence from a Cross-National Experiment in China and the United States" (with Ryan Brutger and Joshua Kertzer). Paper for the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting (2017).
- "Crisis Management in the Shadow of Audience Costs" (with Alastair Iain Johnston). Paper for the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting (2016).
- "Understanding Chinese International Kindness: A National Experiment" (with Zenobia Chan). Paper for the International Studies Association Annual Conference (2016).
- "Rally Around the Red Flag: Terror Shocks and Nationalism in China" (with Yue Hou). Paper for the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting (2015).
- "Realism, Idealism, and American Public Opinion on Nuclear Disarmament" (with Mark Bell). Paper for the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting (2015).
- "Rationalist Causes of War: Mechanisms, Experiments, and East Asian Wars." Thesis (2013). (Committee: Kenneth Oye, James M. Snyder, Stephen Van Evera)